I have not participated in It's Monday What Are You Reading? in a very long time but lately I have found myself missing this community of readers. I have been following the lovely Carrie Gelson's blog (thereisabookforthat.com) for quite awhile now and she has been drawing me back with her wonderful descriptions of new books (and the way she shares them in her classroom; I would love to be a learner in her room). I have also been doing a lot of reading lately and want to share it. So, here we are, back to joining #IMWAYR.
I always like to have a theme to my #IMWAYR posts. Themes help me organize my thoughts and bring cohesion to my final product - whether that is a blog post, a birthday party or a new unit I am prepping for a class. While choosing a theme can sometimes be a process (I'm looking at you birthday parties!), more often than not themes seem to gradually make themselves known to me until they are so obvious that I can no longer ignore them. In this case, the theme comes from the recent movie release of Wonder, an adaptation of the book by R.J. Palacio.
Wonder (R.J. Palacio) - A truly transformational read, Wonder tells the story of a young boy who, due to a severe facial deformity, has been home-schooled his whole life. Now, in Gr. 5, his parents have enrolled him in public school. As Auggie negotiates life in middle school we learn not just about him but about all of the people around him and all of the ways that his condition touch their lives. Much like the books below, this book is a fabulous gateway to discussing differences, kindness, bullying and more. With the addition of the movie it becomes even more accessible to our young readers.
Highly Illogical Behavior (John Corey Whaley) - Just finished this one and really enjoyed it. I will put out there right off the bat that, although this is a book that could be read at the middle school level, there are a few swear words and a fair bit of discovering your sexuality (no sex scenes but lots of talk about it), so I wouldn't recommend it for general consumption below Gr. 9 (aside: we were chatting the other day at a district gifted/enrichment meeting about needing to allow some precocious readers to read above their pay grade. Some kids are ready for this material earlier than others and, with parent permission, that's a-ok). Anyway, back to the book. Highly Illogical Behavior nails the teenage characters in all of their awkwardness and enthusiasm; they are stereotypical but with just enough of a twist that they are endearing - the highly-driven keener (with a dysfunctional family), the jock (who loves Star Trek and is reluctant in the bedroom), the lovable Star Trek fan (who hasn't left the house in 3 years). The premise - that of an agoraphobic teen who hasn't stepped foot outside of his house in 3 years - and the journey the characters embark on together is rich fodder for classroom discussions about differences, mental illness, helping others, friendships and more. Definitely a book worth sharing!
A Mango-Shaped Space (Wendy Mass) - What a wonderful book! A Mango-Shaped Space takes a look at a young girl with synesthesia, a condition that causes her to see colours for letters and words. I loved the way this book explored the way Mia's feelings about her condition develop and change; nothing felt forced or awkward about Mass' portrayal of a teen coming to grips with who she is and who she wants to be. I can definitely see many kids making lots of connections to this book! Much like Highly Illogical Behavior, this is a great choice for discussing differences, loss and friendships.
Out of My Mind (Sharon M. Draper) - I've blogged about this one (and my I'm-not-so-sure-I-loved-it feeling) before. The subject matter was fascinating - the idea that a very intelligent person could be trapped in a body that prevents them from sharing their intelligence really makes you stop and think about some of the kiddos we come across. Are we underestimating them? If they could communicate, what would they say? How can we provide them with opportunities to show what they know? Definitely transformative thoughts to be had there.
At the same time, I just didn't really love the book. I found many of the terms used to be quite dated ("way cool", "that's what's up"), which made the book feel a bit stilted. I also think that many of my students would have trouble connecting to the students in this book; in many ways it felt like an adult's interpretation of how kids behave and what they say. Finally, the climax (which I won't spoil for you) felt forced; possible, yes, but not very likely. All in all, I loved the concept of this book and think it could spark some very interesting discussions; ultimately, however, it fell a bit flat for me.
The Honest Truth (Dan Gemeinhart) - This is a heart-breaking book (expect tears!) about a boy who decides that he is too much of a burden for his family and friends, so he runs away to fulfill a dream or die trying. Told from his point of view and that of his best friend, Jessie, we get a clear picture of two very different perspectives on the same event. Well-written for the middle grades but be aware that the content is pretty heavy and there are some dark scenes. Again, though, another great book for exploring friendships, differences, illness, dreams and more.
I can imagine using all of these books in a themed (of course) lit circle, along with classics like The Outsiders. The rich conversations that all of these books will inevitably spark are so enticing! Stay tuned for a differences-themed lit circle task cards unit that I am working on...any of these books would be a perfect fit.
Have a wonderful week!
This is the first in a series of posts about using technology in your classroom to support all learners. While it will mainly focus on iPads since that's the technology we have at our school, many of these apps are also available for Android and some even have computer versions.
Audible is an easy-to-use, cloud-based provider of audio books. They have thousands of titles available for purchase and a number of different purchase plans. I love that their titles are read by professional readers, often by well-known actors. While this may not seem like a big thing, it really changes a student's enjoyment of a book when it is read by an actor versus being read by a computer. Both novels and picture books are available, and new books are added regularly. Another cool thing, if you happen to be working with Kindle devices, is WhisperSync; when you own both the audio and Kindle versions of the book, they will automatically sync to your last read spot, regardless of whether or not you were listening or reading. A great tool for kids who want to listen to their book on the walk home and then pick the kindle version up at bedtime.
How I use it: This app is a definite must for kids with learning disabilities in reading. I also find that it works very well for reluctant readers who just don't want to read, as well as for fluency practice for younger readers. It can be used on its own or paired with the paper copy of the book for maximum effect.
Available for: iPad, iPhone, Android,Windows Phone, PC, Mac
Ruckus Readers. These semi-animated books on the iPad are just wonderful! The illustrations are bright and colourful, with just a little bit of animation. They have tons of titles, both fiction and non-fiction, that kids really enjoy (lots of TV and movie tie-ins but more than enough that aren't) and the books are levelled so you can tailor them to the needs in your class. Each one has the choice of read to self or read to me and the pacing of the read to me is well done, with the words highlighted in yellow as you go. Another neat feature is the incorporation of simple games that allow readers to win virtual stickers; my favourite game is the pop-up sparkles that appear after the text has been read. Once readers tap the sparkle, a word appears, which they then have to find in the text. Kids love this! Unfortunately, most of the books are for in-app purchase, so you do have to be prepared to spend some cash if you want to use this app.
How I use it: At the moment, Ruckus readers are used primarily in the Lit Pit as an option at the Love to Read station. I would love to buy more as the kids seem to have made their way through all of the free options I initially downloaded. The librarian (who, thankfully, is also tech focused) and I are going to have to make some decisions about how options such as these factor in to our budget!
RAZ-Kids. If you are not yet familiar with this site and app, you need to be! RAZ-Kids is the online, levelled library of Reading A-Z, who produce a variety of reading, vocabulary and writing materials, most notably printable levelled books both fiction and non. Once you have purchased a very reasonably priced subscription, you are able to give your students access to colourful books that can be read to them (well-paced, with word tracking), read on their own and with a brief comprehension quiz at the end. The books are engaging and the reading is well done. My students love earning points to help them build their rocket and they also enjoy completing a level and moving to the next one. One of the great features of this app is that students are able to access this app/site easily at home as well. I love that their log in system is simple, even if multiple classrooms are using the same iPads - once you've entered the teacher's name once, it becomes a button on the main login screen, ensuring that no one has to remember their rather complicated login and password information.
How I use it: This app gets used pretty much everywhere in our school: classroom, Lit Pit, intervention room, home. Many classroom teachers use it as a center or to help students who need fluency practice during silent reading. I use it to engage some of my struggling readers while I work with others in their small group. With the great diversity of non-fiction titles offered, I can also easily find books to support a classroom theme or help a student with material for a research project that I know is at their level. The printable books are fabulous for being sent home as home reading (it's really not a big deal if they get lost) and also allow students to mark them up as we search for specific sounds or practice a particular reading strategy. Definitely get some parent help to put the printables together though - it's a lot of work!
Have you got any favourite apps you use to get kids reading? I would love to hear about them!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!